Crixeo: Alternative School Profile
Welcome to the Age of the Alternative School
In his manifesto Stop Stealing Dreams, modern-day philosopher and writer Seth Godin made the argument for a revolution in the American education system. He argued that public schools are not producing the brave, creative and self-reliant individuals — the ones intent on carving their own paths as artists, inventors, scientists and innovators — that we need for a successful culture and workforce in the connected economy. Instead he argues that the rote memorization, blind obedience, multiple-choice tests and antiquated curricula of the public school system are all tools to prepare students for an industrial era that is slowly dissolving into ancient history.
However, since there are huge barriers to change, which are keeping this industrial model alive, Seth calls for parents and teachers to write their own manifestos and start their own alternative school. Because if a revolution is going to happen, if American schoolchildren are going to get the education they need to survive in the information age and stay competitive on a global scale, then it’s the parents and communities themselves that will have to make it happen. According to Seth, they are the ones who need to stand up to the status quo and demand that schools create the culture and economy we want and need for our children.
Of course, Tairi Grace wasn’t trying to start a revolution. She was simply fighting for her four children to get the education they needed — in the way that they needed it — and Grace Holistic Center for Education was her solution. The K-12 program is now accepting applications for their first school year starting this fall, but the idea of an alternative school has been brewing in Tairi’s mind for years.
As a licensed clinical social worker with her own private practice, as well as a registered yoga teacher, Tairi knew that her children were not getting the help they needed to succeed. Her eldest son, for instance, struggles with sensory issues, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities and social anxiety. Her daughter, on the other hand, is exceptionally gifted and was quickly excelling past her class. Both of them were slipping through the cracks of the public school system.
Tairi decided to homeschool all four of her children for a year. It was then that she realized, “It’s not just a special needs problem. Even ‘normal’ kids are struggling.” So she partnered up with Jennifer L. Saad and set out to create an alternative school environment that’s not only safe and encouraging for students, whether they are gifted, have ADHD, have difficulties with testing or are somewhere in between, but a place that also fosters bravery, leadership and creativity — all highly valuable skills in the connected economy. Moreover, they wanted to create an alternative school that provided a holistic education, one focused not on labels or differences but on unity, through a program that nurtures children mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
In terms of academics, the school is registered through the Illinois State Board of Education, and Tairi is planning to offer an additional therapeutic option for the 300 students in her school district who have been approved for these special needs programs. However, Grace Holistic, while offering a potential solution for these children, has been designed with all students in mind — no matter their learning abilities or behavioral statuses. As a result, the mental aspect of this alternative school is geared more toward experiential learning that will enable ingenuity and creativity to thrive.
The curriculum is based on the Waldorf Earthschooling model, and classes are not organized by age. Instead, a mixed grade structure allows for different levels of learning, enabling students who are gifted to be challenged without leaving other students, who may learn more slowly, behind to struggle. As a result, the smartest kid in the room becomes the room itself, allowing for teamwork and collaboration across age groups.
Monday through Thursday will be dedicated to the maths and sciences, while Fridays will be reserved for art, music and electives, such as dance, photography and the culinary arts. And to encourage whole-brain thinking and mental flexibility while building confidence through hard work, practice and performance, this alternative school provides a weekly Spanish immersion for all students as well as semiprivate group musical study through the Fox River Academy of Music and Art.
Teachers will work closely with students (at a ratio of 6:1), but instead of offering lectures and strict test scoring measures, the instructors at Grace Holistic will instead be encouraged to perfect their individual craftsmanship as educators. And by having the freedom to actually teach, the instructors will be able to inspire a love of learning and motivate students to find and pursue their calling, whether it’s in music, art, math, science or something completely new.
To ensure that students are healthy and receptive to their educations, Grace Holistic has also partnered with Ginger and Soul, Inc. to provide organic, no-dye, non-GMO lunches as the necessary fuel kids need to grow, think and play. And in addition to 60 minutes outside (weather permitting), students will also start every school day with positive affirmations, yoga and meditations. Not only will these potentially lifelong habits foster critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, but mindful meditation can also play a huge role in reducing stress and anxiety, which are acutely felt by children with ADHD in particular.
Movement will also be guided throughout the day to help students stay alert. “Even adults can’t sit still for eight hours a day,” Tairi says. “Even healthy, well-adjusted people!” To remedy this, the school is equipped with a variety of desk sizes and shapes, and there will be plenty of opportunities to get up and move throughout the day.
But what’s truly unique about Grace Holistic is their emotional component. “Our society isn’t proactive. We only fix things once they’re broken,” Tairi explains. “And there’s a stigma on mental health, and that’s what I would like to remove. I’d like to fix things before they’re broken.” To address this issue, the school is collaborating with Langston Pediatric Therapy to provide support groups that bring families and parents together so that they can build new traditions with their children with the help of a professional clinician.
And because of the class structure within Grace Holistic, Tairi hopes to remove the shame that so many children feel because of their differences, whether it’s body type, gender identity or academics, which is something many public schools have not quite addressed. “There’s such a lack of unity…a lack of cohesiveness,” Tairi explains. “But you don’t have to be good at everything. Someone can be great at math, and someone can be great at music. We’re much stronger if we all work together.” Seth Godin might add, If only we were brave enough to try.
At this time, Grace Holistic is completely self-funded without federal or state aid, but Tairi swears, “It’s happening — no matter what. I’ll put my house up if I have to.” Her dedication speaks to the much larger issue. After all, schools should meet the needs of today’s society, not the factories of the past, and they should belong to the communities they serve. Ask yourself, what is your child’s school doing to fuel dreams? How is their curriculum making our society — or even just your community — smarter, stronger and more inspired? And what are you going to do about it? Yes, education is expensive, but as Seth Godin poignantly notes, “Living in a world of ignorance is even more expensive.”
The goal of school shouldn’t be conformity and memorization; it should be creating a desire to make a difference and to challenge the status quo for the better. And that’s exactly what Tairi Grace is fighting to do. Will you join her?